Gay marriage

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Last night I watched Four Corners (an Australian TV programme presenting investigative journalism), which presented a report on the ‘rise’ of the evangelical movement in the US. Some of it is probably applicable to Australia. It was a fairly scary program, I thought, because it presented a movement which is sophisticated in its methods to acquire power, determined to apply its moral positions, but also very unsophisticated in its understanding of the world, of the Bible, and of Christianity in general. I know there are many, many evangelicals who do not fit into this mould – who are open, tolerant, intellectually rigourous and willing to work with others, even when they differ with themselves. But I found these people scary. An initial thought I had was how can I call myself Christian when these people claim the entire terrain for themselves. I’m liberal by no means, but I know that my theology and ecclesiology would be absolutely unacceptable, not to mention my ‘lifestyle’ (which I prefer to simply think of as my life!). Inevitably, the issue of gay marriage rights was covered, and I thought I’d write a little about my feelings on that issue.

I’m not an advocate of gay marriage, really. My reasons are fairly clear-cut – I think that the social institution of marriage is one for heterosexual couples. It is so infused with meaning and history that I think attempts to change this would be harmful for everyone. Having said that, I think it is clear that the meaning of marriage is changing over time – an inevitable thing. I suspect that it was a state into which most people entered with the expectation of remaining in it for life. I doubt that is so anymore. Marriage, for me, is a social contract between two people, recognised and legitimised by the state – sometimes witnessed and blessed by the church. I don’t think, particularly, that it is a hallowed or sacramental thing – indeed, for much of Christian history (at any rate), the church had significant trouble getting people to actually submit to marriage. I think that the Christian movement has appropriated an existing social institution and infused it with meaning. There is a Biblical mandate, to be sure, that celebrates and seeks to preserve marriage-like relationships. But we also have to note that what is translated as ‘marriage’ in the Bible is a social institution belonging to a different culture – the mores and rules around it were different to our own.

While I’m not keen on gay marriage, I am a strong supporter of the concept of civil unions, which would grant the same dignity, rights, responsibilities and provide the same protections as marriage. A civil union would have all of the legal status and formal recognition of marriage but without the religious associations. A civil union would provide a couple (same-sex or otherwise) with a way of formalising their relationship without asking, requiring or encouraging religious institutions to bless, hallow or recognise them. For some heterosexual couples a civil union may be a more attractive proposition than a religious wedding, being free of the religious overtones. A civil union would be registered in the same way, and be dissolved in the same way as a marriage.

Being Christian, I would like to think that my relationship, which brings me grace, shows me the face of God, and helps to shape me into a better person, could be recognised and encouraged by the Church, but I won’t hold my breath, nor at this point will I agitate for it. It is sufficient for me right now to know that God is in my relationship. I do want to celebrate it and formalise it, but I don’t need to be married in church.

I know this is a thorny subject, and these are merely my impressions on it. Believe me, I know the proof texts and the arguments against ‘gay marriage’, and I suspect those who are against gay marriage will also fight against civil unions for similar reasons, using similar arguments (’protect the family’, ‘promote social cohesion’, ‘adhere to Judeo-Christian morals and ethics’), and with similar effectiveness.

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1 Comment »

  1. bryn said

    I don’t understand what the difference would be whether one advocates civil unions or marriages, to me it seems just a difference in name alone. Marriages are entered into under the Marriage Act and eligible citizens (i.e M+F people of age) can choose to enter into it in a way that includes religion, or not.
    I suppose my point is there are two issues: The Legal notion of Marriage, and the religious notion. When one advoctaes for ‘gay marriage’ it is to advocate (usually, or at least for me) for equality within the law, it does not force a change in the religious notion of marriage. To ask for civil unions only, to me, seems to just conflate the two issues.

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